Commentary

IOC decision should give people of Los Angeles another chance to see how much they want Games

Today the full International Olympic Committee rubber stamped the proposal to award both the 2024 and 2028 Games simultaneously. Most Olympic observers believe that when the IOC convenes in Lima, Peru this September it will hand Paris the 2024 Summer Games, marking the 100-year anniversary of the last time the city was the host, while Los Angeles will settle for 2028.

After the flak that the IOC has received in recent years for transforming the Games into an over-priced behemoth with harsh social side effects, concurrently awarding the 2024 and 2028 Olympics to two host cities with storied five-ring histories might seem like a victory. However, it is only a short-term fix.

If Los Angeles is pondering the possibility of hosting the 2028 Summer Games, the IOC’s decision cracks open a set of fresh quandaries. If Angelenos — including Los Angeles Mayor and big-time Olympics booster Eric Garcetti — take their democracy seriously, it should mean a renewed round of community consultation, with open public forums and new polls that ask locals how they feel about the prospect of hosting the Games in 2028 instead of 2024.

After all, 2028 is a long way down the political pike. Just rewind your mind eleven years to 2006. That’s when Saddam Hussein was executed for crimes against humanity. Zacarias Moussaoui was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That year Google bought YouTube and Taylor Swift released her debut studio album. You get the picture – times have changed.

To be sure, even the standard seven-year lag between bid and delivery comes with risks. Just ask Rio de Janeiro. After the IOC Evaluation Commission visited Rio in 2009, it wrote, “The Commission is confident that the growing Brazilian economy would be able to support the necessary infrastructure development needed for the delivery of the 2016 Games.” Of course, that “growing Brazilian economy” contracted, plummeting to depths not seen since the 1930s. Meanwhile, the country’s scandal-wracked political system imploded, culminating in the slow-motion impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff.

Plus, the Olympics already suffer from an accountability problem that stretches from the IOC’s palatial headquarters in Lausanne to local politicos who push the bid in the early days only to disappear into the political ether, bearing no responsibility for the actual Games. When Rio was selected to host the 2016 Games, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was front and center waving the Brazilian flag and shedding tears of joy alongside the soccer great Pele, but Lula was long gone once the Olympics finally arrived. By the time 2028 rolls around, Garcetti will be a ghost of L.A.’s political past.

Awarding the Games to L.A. in 2028 actually presents additional problems, especially if you believe in a little thing called democracy. Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson has made it clear that if LA 2024 bidders want to bump the goalposts back to 2028, they’ll have to revisit the issue with elected officials. Wesson intimated that a new round of public meetings would be in order as well as new polls to re-check the public’s temperature. “The people in this city definitely have a big say,” he said.

The public’s “big say” should definitely include a fresh set of public meetings where community members can weigh in. New polls are also necessary. The LA 2024 bid team has long trumpeted the statistic that 88% of locals support hosting the Games. Garcetti often quips that in Los Angeles “not even sunshine” polls as well as the Olympics. But this poll was conducted in January and February 2016 when only the 2024 Games were on the radar. Moreover, 32% of often-repeated 88% statistic was only “somewhat supportive” of the Games. Even the IOC admits the numbers are lower, reporting 78% support from an independently commissioned poll in February 2017.

And if the Los Angeles bid team is so confident in its numbers, then why not hold a public referendum to ratify support? One bonus to having an 11-year lead-time is that it would create more space for just such a referendum. Recently, aspiring host cities like Hamburg and Krakow have run referenda to check whether citizens were on board with the multi-billion dollar Olympic venture. (In both cases they were not).

In Olympic history there is even precedent for a public referendum after being awarded the Games by the IOC. Denver was handed the 1976 Winter Olympics only to have a public referendum jettison the bid by yanking public funding.

Since early 2016 when the legendary poll finding 88% support was taken, the political winds have shifted in the city, giving rise to an anti-Games coalition, NOlympicsLA. The group is spearheaded by the Los Angeles chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America and supported by an ever-growing coalition. The NOlympics LA campaign has created momentum in recent weeks, gaining traction in both the local and national press and building a list of coalition partners.

As the IOC barrels toward a vote in Lima, IOC President Thomas Bach has oozed the bravado that has helped plunge the IOC into the predicament it now finds itself. When asked whether Los Angeles or Paris would even accept the 2028 Games as a consolation prize he said those Games would be “a present” for either city.

But the truth is that the Olympics need Los Angeles and Paris much more than either city needs the Olympics. Angelenos are hardly nabbed in the pincer grip of Olympism. If Olympic honchos are going to change the rules of the game, residents deserve a chance to meaningfully weigh in on the new circumstances.

Jules Boykoff teaches political science at Pacific University. He is the author of three books on the Olympics, most recently “Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics.”

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